Foreign investment, plus or minus to Tanzania fishing sector?

  • The troubled fishing sector contributes an average of 2.2 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Tanzania
  • A Chinese company was willing to invest in one of the country’s major lakes but after a protracted delay and talks, local authorities ruled against the proposed investment
  • Illegal fishing is considered to be among the worst devastating economic sabotage acts that the country is suffering from

Tanzania has a huge potential to grow its fishing industry both from internal water bodies and the wide expansion of its Indian Ocean coast.

However, the sector is dwindling and operating far below its potential. The troubled sector contributes an average of 2.2 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but is reported to have a much high potential.

On the one hand, you have willing investors and on the other, you have national and international environmental laws that seem to be on a head-on collision.

In a recent case study, a Chinese company was willing to invest in one of the country’s major lakes but after a protracted delay and talks, local authorities ruled against the proposed investment.

The investment involved the setup of a processing plant on the shores of the lake that would purchase and process products from the lake. It was envisioned that such an investment would boost economic activities in the area and improve the livelihood of thousands of fishermen as well as create employment for thousands more at the factory as well as catalyse trade in and around that area.

Read: Curbing illegal fishing needs private sector hand

However, prioritizing the raised environmental concerns, the government has put the plans on hold. It is very refreshing to see African governments place environmental safety ahead of bottom-line profits, however, is there a win-win scenario that will uphold the environment safety as well as allow for the much-needed investment to take place?

There is also the matter of illegal fishing which is considered to be among the worst devastating economic sabotage acts that the country is suffering from. According to recent reports, illegal fishing actions are depleting fish in Lake Victoria and other inland water bodies.

Even though the country’s laws warn of severe penal action for illegal fishing and/or supply of illegal fishing gear, the fight against the practice is not gaining much ground. That was the case for inland water bodies but the scenario is none the better in the larger Indian Ocean.

Tanzania is losing fish to both domestic illegal fishing and international poaching; foreign vessel repeatedly enters the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and illegally fishes schools of marine life.

Tanzania has its hands full with well over 64,000 square kilometres of territorial waters to man in the Indian Ocean. That is not it, the country has another 223,000 square kilometres of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that is also responsible to watch over.

Consider this, if the country is having trouble stopping small-scale fishermen from illegal fishing practices using rudimentary tools then it has a much less chance to nab faster, more modern international vessels that use state-of-the-art technology to fish and evade capture.

Read: Kenya acquires new Shs. 3.6 bn ship for fight against illegal fishing

Will foreign investment help curb illegal fishing?

There is a premise that allowing or rather increasing foreign investment in the industry will actually help to reduce illegal fishing. Here is the purported idea, foreign investment will mean increased revenue that the government can reinvest in awareness programmes to curb illegal practices.

Then there is the matter of technology transfer, foreign investors will help bring new fishing technology, vessels, storage facilities etc that meet international standards. This will mean that Tanzania stands to benefit.

Also, by creating employment then foreign investment bridges the revenue gap that otherwise drives most youth to carry out the banned fishing practices in hope of a quick catch to supplement their meagre incomes.

Even though Tanzania is protected by the Deep Sea Fishing Authority Act but few abide by these laws and by large, many foreign vessels do not identify themselves nor register when they enter Tanzania’s waters.

Tanzania has also entered into the South West Indian Ocean Fish (SWIOFish) agreement. Among other things, conduct awareness programmes and invest in modern boats for patrol.

Tanzania is also party to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) agreement that requires countries not only to take all necessary actions to prevent and even end illegal fishing activities in the Indian Ocean but to also report all such activities.

Similarly, Tanzania is also a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the FAO’s Code of Conducts for Responsible Fisheries as well as the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC).

However, even with all these goodwill memberships, the country still underperforms in the fishing sphere and even with environmental concerns in mind, the country needs to increase foreign (and domestic) investment in the sector.

Consider the lake city of Mwanza, this sprawling city on the shores of one of Africa’s largest lakes, Lake Victoria has lost more than 11 fisheries that have closed down over the course of the last few years. Why?

Local reports say the factories were forced to shut down because they were operating below capacity because the supply of fish was simply too low to operate profitably. The close of these dozen or so companies’ output robbed the city of millions of jobs throwing so many families back down below the poverty line.

It is speculated that it is such scenarios that are fuelling the growing illegal fishing practices as peasants seek to make ends meet. However, this is not just a problem for Mwanza city, on the contrary, it’s a regional and even global problem because Lake Victoria just happens to be one of the largest lakes in the world and if this massive inland water body is running out of fish, then it spells trouble for everyone.

Granted, Tanzania cannot do without international assistance but part of this assistance should be in the form of foreign investment in the sector. This means welcoming new, modern fishing vessels, setting up modern processing and storage facilities and allowing for the adoption of modern business practices in the sector.

To do this, the government must invite the private sector to be part of this change. As local private actors partner with large foreign investors then the sector will start to recover. In turn, the government can establish and enforce existing local and international laws that govern global fishing practices.

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Giza Mdoe is an experienced journalist with 10 plus years. He's been a Creative Director on various brand awareness campaigns and a former Copy Editor for some of Tanzania's leading newspapers. He's a graduate with a BA in Journalism from the University of San Jose.

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